Factors limiting the spread of the protective symbiont Hamiltonella defensa in Aphis craccivora aphids

Hannah R. Dykstra, Stephanie R. Weldon, Adam J. Martinez, Jennifer A. White, Keith R. Hopper, George E. Heimpel, Mark K. Asplen, Kerry M. Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Many insects are associated with heritable symbionts that mediate ecological interactions, including host protection against natural enemies. The cowpea aphid, Aphis craccivora, is a polyphagous pest that harbors Hamiltonella defensa, which defends against parasitic wasps. Despite this protective benefit, this symbiont occurs only at intermediate frequencies in field populations. To identify factors constraining H. defensa invasion in Ap. craccivora, we estimated symbiont transmission rates, performed fitness assays, and measured infection dynamics in population cages to evaluate effects of infection. Similar to results with the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, we found no consistent costs to infection using component fitness assays, but we did identify clear costs to infection in population cages when no enemies were present. Maternal transmission rates of H. defensa in Ap. craccivora were high (ca. 99%) but not perfect. Transmission failures and infection costs likely limit the spread of protective H. defensa in Ap. craccivora. We also characterized several parameters of H. defensa infection potentially relevant to the protective phenotype. We confirmed the presence of H. defensa in aphid hemolymph, where it potentially interacts with endoparasites, and performed real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) to estimate symbiont and phage abundance during aphid development. We also examined strain variation of H. defensa and its bacteriophage at multiple loci, and despite our lines being collected in different regions of North America, they were infected with a nearly identical strains of H. defensa and APSE4 phage. The limited strain diversity observed for these defensive elements may result in relatively static protection profile for this defensive symbiosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5818-5827
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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